WASHINGTON — Once assured of victory on friendly turf, Mitt Romney faces a potentially devastating loss of his home state of Michigan to Rick Santorum, which could upend the campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.
Romney, the son of popular former Michigan governor and onetime Detroit auto executive George W. Romney, finds himself trailing Santorum in Michigan. A loss in the Feb. 28 vote could weaken him going into the 10 "Super Tuesday" states that vote March 6 and throw the race wide open.
In response, Romney and his allies are unleashing an advertising blitz against Santorum in Michigan much like the ones they used in Iowa and Florida to defeat Newt Gingrich when he was the main threat to Romney's campaign.
It could work again. Santorum is largely unknown. The former senator from Pennsylvania is about to be defined by hostile ads portraying him as a big-government Washington insider with no executive experience. And despite some recent success raising money, he still lacks the kind of cash he would need to buy enough ads in Michigan to match Romney's barrage.
Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, has long counted on Michigan. He grew up there. His father chaired American Motors and served as governor from 1963 to 1969. Mitt and his wife, Ann, still keep a summer home in the state.
Romney won the Michigan primary in 2008 against John McCain, and for months polls suggested an easy repeat this time around. As recently as Feb. 2, he led by 15 points. And Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signaled his plans to endorse Romney today.
Yet since Santorum won three states Feb. 7, he has surged into the lead in Michigan, just as he has pulled ahead in national polls.
The swing in fortunes is driven by a one-two punch. First, Romney's failing to connect with some blocs of Michigan voters, such as evangelicals and tea party supporters. Second, Santorum's recent wins gave him a burst of publicity as many Michigan voters started tuning in and weighing an alternative to Romney.
Romney is using a potentially risky strategy to woo tea partyers: blasting the auto industry bailout that many people credit with saving Michigan's most vital industry. It seems designed to undermine Santorum's popularity with conservatives who dislike government intervention in business, even when the results appear defensible. It also reinforces Romney's image as an experienced capitalist who understands the pain sometimes involved in making companies work.
Santorum hopes to win Michigan with an appeal to the state's blue-collar workers, emphasizing his personal tale of a grandfather who worked the coal mines of Pennsylvania and an economic agenda keyed to helping restore manufacturing jobs.
Santorum releases tax returns: Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum is releasing four years' worth of federal income tax returns showing a steady rise in his personal wealth before earnings slipped in 2010.
Santorum's returns show his federal income taxes rose from 2007, when he paid $167,000, to $310,000 in 2009, then dropped to $263,000 in 2010. During that same period, his annual income surged from nearly $660,000 in 2007 to $1.1 million in 2009 before slipping to $923,000 in 2010.
Santorum became a millionaire by capitalizing on his Washington political connections, working as a corporate consultant and media commentator.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.